The Value of Human Life

This article was published in the Scottish Catholic Observer on Friday 19th April 2019.

I was at funeral the other day

The occasion was a very sad one; this was a child’s funeral. Matthew was just under two years old when he died. Deaths always come as a shock but this one was long expected. Just after he was born the Doctors had warned his parents that Matthew would not live very long. All the delights of watching a child grow normally were to be denied to them.

The family gave Matthew all the care he needed and his needs were great and constant. They had to learn how to use the life sustaining equipment when they brought him home as the hospital could do no more for him. He was frequently rushed to hospital in the middle of the night to deal with serious problems.

At his funeral our parish priest told us that often people in this situation will ask “Why did God let that child die?” and confessed he did not have the answer. Who knows the mind of God? I thought of another question some have asked me, “Why did God allow that child to live? Surely a kind God would not allow the child to live with no hope?” Their question annoyed me at the time but I realised that day that their question was the right question, one whose answer I learned at the funeral.

That question reflects the values of our society today. It assumes that a child will have purpose when it becomes an adult. Only as an adult will it have a real value. Why did God make that child? Luckily there is an answer to that question. My old catechism tells me that God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next. That applies to us all.

How do we get to know God? It seems to me that we get to know God through love. All love comes through God and it is the love we find in other people that shows us God’s love. Matthew experienced love from his family, their friends and from the many doctors and nurses who tended to him. The turnout at his funeral mass bears witness to that. Though he would not have been able to put that into words, Matthew came to know God as we all do, through the love shown by others.

Matthew was not able to speak but his smile was a great indication for his love. It was particularly obvious when he was held by his grandfather or heard his voice that this was someone he loved. He wouldn’t have been able to mention God but surely we show our love for God in our love for our fellow man.

What about serving God? Matthew wasn’t able to do anything for himself so how could he serve God? What, in fact, do we mean by serving God? It would be wrong to assume that God needs us to do anything for Him. God is all powerful and we are able to do things as a result of God’s gifts. I believe that God has a purpose for each of us. Some may have a notable purpose like Pope Francis whose purpose is to lead the Church. Most of us have purposes that are not so obvious. Take examples form the Stations of the Cross.

Simon of Cyrene was given the task of helping Jesus carry the cross so that He didn’t die on the way to Calvary. Veronica was given the task of wiping the face of Jesus. Neither of these tasks would be regarded as spectacular but we constantly remind ourselves of these simple tasks because God’s purpose for us is generally simple but important.

So what was Matthew’s purpose? Matthew couldn’t do anything. He could only be. Why would that be an important purpose? If I stand back and look at our society today one thing stands out. Our belief in the sanctity of life is under attack. Abortion has been legal in this country since the sixties. It was sold as a law to end the difficult cases of pregnancies that threatened the mother’s life. What it rapidly became is a law that destroys countless lives for the convenience of the parents. It doesn’t stop there. Some want to extend the time when abortions can be carried out. In New York recently they changed the law to allow abortions up to the point of birth.

Now we are being denied the right to have an opinion on the matter of abortion. Laws are being introduced to prevent those who value life from bothering people outside abortion clinics by praying. How dare we pray? How dare we value life?

At the other end of life we witness pressure to allow us to assist people to die. That started off as an argument about people who are terminally ill. No treatment can help them. Now we have seen people being helped to die because they are going deaf ( a musician ), are clinically depressed and even children being allowed to choose to die even though they are not terminally ill. It would seem you can be helped to die because you are fed up with life.

Life is God’s greatest gift. Followers of Christ believe that it is for God to decide when we will die. Killing is not an option. Medicine grew as a profession to save and prolong life. We have ambulances to save lives. We devise systems to allow us to cross the road in safety to save lives. The law requires us to wear a seatbelt in a car to save lives. I’m at a loss to see how all that squares with the notion that the unborn child’s life is not just as important.

Matthew’s life was testimony to the love of his parents and friends. His life was a reminder, a timely reminder that our society is on the wrong track. By his short life he has spoken out against our disregard for God’s gift of life. Anyone who was at his funeral was left in no doubt that Matthew’s life was not of no consequence but called out that we have got it wrong.

That was God’s purpose for Matthew and he served his God and will be happy with him in Heaven. He challenges us to do the same.

A View On The Killing


Life Savers

Apparently the Care minister has changed his mind on the Euthenasia question. He now thinks Lord Falconer’s bill should be supported. Even the former Archbishop of Canterbury has  decided the time is right for us to choose death over life. In fact he goes further than the bill which proposes to relax the law in cases  where someone is suffering a terminal illness. Lord Carey refers to cases of people with locked in syndrom but not in a terminal state.

And so it goes on. The half truths are being rolled out to persuade a compassionate people (thats you and me) the it is wrong to let patients go on suffering in pain and it is better to kill them. The half that is true is that it is wrong to let people suffer in pain. The half that is wrong is that it is better to kill them. Whe have the technology to relieve pain; that’s what the hospice movement is all about. Of course it is cheaper to kill people.

Life is fragile. We take all sorts of steps to support life. My twin grandsons were born seven weeks early almost a year ago and the technology and, above all, the wonderful, professional care they recieved in Glasgow hospitals helped them to live and I now have two great wee boys. We spend lots of money on pedestrian crossings to keep people alive when crossing the road. Our emergency services are there to save lives. Why all this? Because life is important. We are either for life of for death.

That might seem a simple choice but it is not. Life costs money. Hospitals, hospices and carers cost. Death, on the other hand, makes money. We make millions from selling weapons, bombs and bullets whose purpose is simply to kill. We are currently remembering the First World War. That war caused millions to be slaughtered in the most horrible conditions imaginable. It was called “The War to End All Wars”, to stop the killing.

In the second leg, World War Two, we saw the killing grow into an industry. Apart from the fighting we saw millions murdered by the German regime because they were ‘subhuman’, handicapped, politically different or someone you don’t like. The Neuremburgh trials punished some of the perpetrators. Unfortunately the lesson has not been learnt. When you choose death over life killing becomes the answer to all sorts of problems.

Some will point out that the bill is restricted to the terminally ill and will be regulated. Well, they said that about abortion and we see the number of babies killed soaring. The archbishop’s outlook on this has already moved beyond the terminal cases. It’s a slippery slope and we are about to step over the edge.

Just hope you are allowed to grow old without developing some problem that the ‘Death Squads’ will deem to be too serious and have you put down.

My November Column Full Text – What Faith Does For You

The Year of Faith - a Voyage of Discovery

The Year of Faith – a Voyage of Discovery

This year I’ve been considering the Year of Faith and what we are called to do for the Faith. This month I’d like to have a look at the benefits the Faith brings to us. I’ve heard people talk of the obligations that faith places on us and how it restricts their lives. Their lives would be freer and happier without these restrictions. I must confess that I’ve never felt that way but I know others who have abandoned their faith in search of something better.

It set me thinking about how faith can be a benefit rather than a handicap. Can faith free us rather than restrict us? What evidence is there of this? Now, looking for evidence is a scientific technique and that reminded me of the supposed conflict between science and religion. That is where I find my first bit of evidence.

Science, as we know it, began with pioneers such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton. Copernicus declared that all the planets, including the Earth, revolved sound the Sun. At that time it was assumed that the Earth was at the centre and everything revolved round it. Copernicus’ ideas were not welcomed. The prevailing ideas satisfied the needs of farmers in predicting seasonal changes; why change? Copernicus was more interested in getting a better understanding of creation and the God who was responsible for it. His ideas proved to be correct. Today we talk of the Solar System, planets held in orbit round the Sun.

Newton set out to explain the working of the solar system. He gave a mathematical proof of his theory explaining how bodies move. Both of these men were contradicting accepted wisdom. They contradicted theories that worked well. They were driven by their belief in a God who created everything; a God who made it possible for us to understand what He had done. They were driven by faith to understand God’s creation. This drive resulted in the beginning of Science as we know it.

Their faith freed them to think beyond generally accepted ideas and ultimately changed the way we all think. Rather than restrict us, faith brought about the means for us to understand more.

That’s ok as a general thing, but what benefits can I see on a personal level? This year I have had an experience that gave me an insight into how faith can shape the way we see things and enable us to live life differently. My sister was diagnosed with cancer. This is probably the worst thing anybody wants to hear. It can sound like a death sentence to some, but not my sister.

She accepted the news bravely and faced surgery with a calmness that surprised us all. After the surgery she faced a programme of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. I was lucky enough to accompany her for some of the therapy sessions. I say lucky because it gave me the chance to see people dealing with an extremely difficult situation.

I have to say that I did see some people who were very worried. They faced a threatening situation and medicine, despite all its advances, can never promise everlasting life. My sister took it all in her stride. Losing hair presented no problem, in fact it ended up with three sisters in uncontrollable laughter. Why was this? The simple answer is that her faith gives her an understanding of life beyond the here and now. She knows that life is a gift from a loving God who will not abandon her.

Her faith enables her to live a normal life in the face of extreme danger. She has been a wonderful example of the benefits of our faith.

To see life through the window of God’s love allows us to deal with the changes in our lives. This time last year I was a carefree young man in his sixties. Today I am a grandfather of three boys. What a change! No more clubbing for me. But what a great gift they are. I was apprehensive about the recent birth of two boys, identical twins. They were born more than seven weeks premature. One of the boys had been lying in a position that restricted his growth and that prompted the early delivery.

To see two small boys, still not fully developed, in their incubators brought home to me the nature of this gift of life. Despite the difficulties they faced and with the wonderful help of the NHS professionals they are growing well. Human life is no accident. All our children are a gift to us. They are the future of humanity. Each one has been created by God and each one has a purpose.

What has that to do with faith? Well, we live in a society that increasingly chooses to disregard God’s purpose in creating us. Our faith shows us God’s hand in creation. Absence of faith in God leaves the purpose of each human being with a question mark. Why should a child with a serious disability be allowed to live? Why should old or seriously ill people be allowed to suffer?

In our society we hear of thousands of abortions being carried out. We hear reports of abuse of old people in care homes. We know of people travelling abroad to places where they can legally commit suicide. I hear that another bill has been presented before the Scottish Parliament to change the law here in that respect. Respect for life seems to be an old concept, out of place in our society.

This seems to me to be the great example of the difference that the faith brings. When we have faith in God we see things through His teaching. We know that God has a purpose in creation and even if we don’t fully understand that purpose we feel sure that it is right. Lack of faith leaves an emptiness in us where there is nothing to point us in the right direction. With no purpose in life we don’t see the value of life.

How can we react to current trends? Our response must be to reaffirm the value of each life. Our response will be seen in how we react to threats to life. The recent Typhoon in the Philippines brought a great response from people all over our country. Charities gathered in millions of pounds in a few days. People saw the threat to lives and responded as best they could.

These were not threats to their next door neighbour, but to people at the other end of the world. When we see the worth of complete strangers we are seeing the world as God sees it. We must continue to ask ourselves how we see the needs of others. How do we react to asylum seekers? Do we welcome them or do we see them as a threat? How do we respond to human trafficking, where people are moved around and treated as commodities? Do we see this as modern slavery or are we happy to be able to get cheap goods and services?

As Christians we have been given the gift of faith that enables us to see more clearly the hand of God in our lives. We must make that plain to the world.

Joseph McGrath